Book Review: “Shoe Leather” by Rick Oglesby (2012)

Image result for "shoe leather" oglesby bookThis short, practical guide to evangelism in ministry serves as a companion guide to Fostering The Harvest, a video series published by Biblical Ministries Worldwide (BMW) out of Lawrenceville, GA. Through a series of short, conversational lectures, the series’ teacher Dave Brown discusses the theological and practical backdrop of evangelism, for individuals as well as for the church. Key to the BMW model of evangelism is to dispel the “Fortress” mentality of Church-wide evangelism, which often says “Come to us to get saved.” Instead, they emphasize Jesus’ model and command which says “Go to them.” Shoe Leather contains a missionary’s acceptance and treatment of this model in book form, making the lessons easily accessible for all, even if they’ve never watched the series.

Oglesby emphasizes a number of concepts in his book, including open communication in evangelism, which starts relationships practically with only a side-thought of winning them to Christ. Why shouldn’t we just dive right in with the Gospel? Because we must love the “whole man” (as Francis Schaeffer would put it) and do so from the right perspective, viewing them truly as friends who need the Gospel and not as targets whom we should befriend. We’re all well aware of this self-inflicted bruise worn by the Body of Christ: deceptive friendships for the sake of converts. How sad that some believers would approach evangelism this way!

The approach instead endorsed by Oglesby and BMW is the individual form of the anti-fortress mentality, meaning we don’t stand in our mighty tower picking off targets when we see them, but rather we go out into their world, live and work like them, befriend them and become them. We don’t invite them to church, we invite them to dinner, and in this way we bond. When bonded, we can then truly understand their needs, and we can then introduce them to another Friend, Jesus, who can help meet those specific needs. Such relationships are founded on the same principle as the initial ice-breaking conversations might be, what Oglesby calls “person-focused FORM questions (family, occupation, recreation, money).” As we connect on these planes, we a build a lasting foundation of friendship that is able to support such private tunnels into the heart as faith and sin.

The Fostering the Harvest series and this book also emphasize the importance of believers being in the world but not of it. Such an approach is totally counter to what most conservative churches teach, that purposeful exposure to the world for the sake of the Gospel would actually have the opposite effect, tearing believers from their righteous living rather than attracting unbelievers to the Truth. But herein lies the very basis of the fortress problem: how effective can our witness be when we approach the lost from within our own Christian cliques? How effective has our witness-from-a-distance been over the past 30 years? Is “the church doors are always open” what Jesus meant by our bring “a city on a hill”? I think not, and the BMW team make a pretty convincing, Scriptural argument for how Jesus really meant for us to evangelize. After all, it was Jesus who ate with tax-collectors and sinners. How we can ignore the simplest lessons taught by his having done so, I can’t figure.

The Fostering the Harvest video series and this short companion book would be a fantastic resource for an evangelistic Bible study, especially if your church is “traditional,” “conservative,” or “fundamentalist.” If you feel like your church’s growth has become stagnant or worse, if you feel that your believers are so outnumbered and outgunned that they’ve holed up inside the fortress of your church’s building and programs, or if you feel like your church is no longer shining as a city on a hill, then this is the kick-in-the-pants you need most.

©2016 E.T.

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